Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 49. Bora Bora. The Global Village.

Strange Customs.

A motor launch is roaring up astern of us! I hate this nasty habit of people in fast boats who aim at our stern and then pass close to one side at the last minute. Dangerous, and downright rude! This one flies a French flag and is a customs launch bound like us for Bora Bora. Uniformed men solemnly survey us with binoculars. I do my best to return a frosty stare, but really it has an Inspector Clouseau air about it and the more I try to stir up resentful feelings, the funnier it seems.

The Pass.

The trades have decided to blink as a small front blows through from the opposite direction so Shiriri is reefed down and motor-sailing very slowly along the southern edge of the extensive reef that surrounds Bora Bora. Eventually we wallow around the corner, get a better slant of wind and sail along beside crashing waves whose tops blow off sideways in the gale. There`s the pass! We slip between the buoys and run across the still choppy lagoon and, helped by David of Francis, pick up a mooring close to land . It has been a nerve jangling all day struggle against wind and waves so we quickly stow all our sails before the next raindrops arrive and let out a long sigh of relief.

The walk.

Heather and I have lots of writing and boat chores to do so when David and Lisa of Francis offer to take Anne with them around the Island for a few days it is a happy answer for Anne. When we are not busy below during the rain squalls, we walk to town along the shoreline path. It is hot in the sun so we become good at dodging from shade to shade. Walking the same path several times, we notice more and more: there is the family who specialize in turning palm fronds into prepared basket weaving supplies, down by the water a father and son work on rebuilding a wooden skiff, and further along toward town a group of men are building a concrete-block house. To these men we wave and say bonjour and indicate we admire their work. In a week we have become a small part of this village world and appreciate it as can only those who are constantly on the move. One day as we reach the edge of the little town, we meet a woman encumbered with recently bought souvenirs scurrying toward us with an harassed look on her face. We recognize a typical cruise ship problem; too much to see, to much to buy and too little time. She looks up at us and says,"Is there anything down there?"What she means of course is whether there is anything consumable behind us along the waterfront path; anything to buy, or see in fifteen minutes or less before the launch will take her back to the ship. We shake our heads and she thankfully turns back, satisfied now that she has got her moneys worth from this stop in paradise. We know that there is a whole special village world down that path but it has taken us a week to see it clearly and months of sailing to prepare for truly appreciating it.

Sailing in the bay with Miss. Chick Pea.

There is enough of a kinship with that woman on the edge of town though, to remind us to take care as we skip from island to island across the Pacific. Our differences are only a matter of degree and we could not keep living this kind of life forever. We are thankful that we have not sold everything back home and committed lock, stock and barrel to this peripatetic life as some fellow cruisers have done.

The big guns.
High on the hillside above our mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht Club ( a restaurant) are some WWII guns which once guarded the only pass into the lagoon: at that time one of the US Navy`s bases during the war with Japan. While I was a very little boy in England, this little Island was host to thousands of single men and their ships, planes and weapons of war. Michener, in "Tales from the South Pacific" describes it well, even if his Bali Ha`i was in what is now Vanuatu. Imagine the dislocation of life for the islanders as North America arrived with all of it`s way of life, machinery and lonely men.

It is a magnificent view from up here on the hilltop: several groups of tourists drape themselves over the guns as they pose for photographs and if I turn away to look across the lagoon there is another cruise ship off the town disgorging more people on the shore where a crowd of modern day Bloody Maries will sell them items to remind them that they have been here. Across the lagoon a collection of luxury"beach huts" stand on stilts over the shallow reef. It is obvious that the invasion is still in progress and is profitable too for the locals who dance, produce items for sale and work in the service industry. Surely though, they must become dazed by the sheer pressure of numbers of visitors and their need for a quick fix of this luxurious, imported vision of paradise.

One evening we take Edith along the shore to the town to see a hula dancing competition. We have heard a percussion band practicing near our anchorage and now hear one in full swing as we join the mostly local crowd sitting on the ground around a central lighted stage. There is some excitement as a local girl and her partner shake it all about. They are very proud! But what is this? A French girl ( dental tech.) begins to dance and someone has taught her very well. The crowd begin to stir uneasily. What if she wins? Will the locals be beaten even at their specialty? Fortunately the judges are aware of some finer points of technique or perhaps catch the mood of the crowd and the local girl wins. Later that night we head back out in Edith into a nasty chop and are well wetted by the warm salt water out in the darkness before we can clamber back up the side of our Shiriri home.

As we try to fill our water tanks at the Club in preparation for departure I give a dinghy ride to a French couple who seem to have no dinghy to get out to their very small and shabby sailboat. She speaks some english so we make conversation. They are headed further across the Pacific to New Caledonia where they expect to find work. I shudder to think of this ill-found vessel heading back out to sea. It is at the other end of the scale from the mega yacht we last saw heading out of Papeete with it`s shipping magnate owner ensconced in his special chair and I fervently wish them luck. What is a casual remark back home seems full of power and portent in these conditions. Maybe it will make a difference!

We have checked out of French Polynesia and are headed for either Samoa or Tonga, both some 1200 miles away, but the weather is once again sending westerly wet winds our way so we motor across the lagoon and pick our way very carefully through the coral reefs to an anchorage between an island and the edge of the fringing reef. We wait here for several days and visit with other yachts caught in the same situation. Arahina has a fantastic watermaker so we go alongside and top up our tanks.
One morning we are called on deck by Lisa of Francis. She asks for Anne`s help to take David across the harbour to the hospital; he is having chest pains. They zoom off in their inflatable. When we pick Anne up later in Edith we are relieved to hear it was just a inflamed pectoral muscle, but as we motor back to our boat we imagine what a major problem this would have been if it had been his heart and if it had happened several hundred miles out en route to Samoa. It is always at the back of our minds of course, and we are more cautious than many we meet who seem to have forgotten or not focused on how vulnerable they are as they scratch themselves on coral or eat reef fish with no thought as to the possible deadly consequences. An added problem for many boats is that a division of skills often makes the male the specialist in boat handling and navigation and if he should become ill or injured at sea, there is no one able to sail the boat to harbour. There are plenty of dangers out here that we cannot avoid, so it is important to be prepared to deal with them when they arrive. As they will.

Listening on the radio we follow the daily reports of Sawleeah, Wylie E. Coyote and Scaldis as they sail toward Hawaii. They are chased by a hurricane but will manage to make it in to Hilo OK. Other friends are en route to Tonga and having a rough time of it, as they are receiving the same westerly gales as we are with no reef to give them shelter. One is knocked down on it`s beam ends. We check on the winds closer to the equator which are light but steady trades and decide to go for Samoa!

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